A Magical Hideout: Floyd

Floyd is a town unlike any other in Virginia—small and rugged, artistic and proud.

Floyd hides out from the rest of the world, an untouched, one-stoplight mountain town where gorgeous hippies float about. Insouciant but earnest, they’re bathed in the tunes of stringed instruments and in a starlight rarely seen outside this rugged realm.

But, as with every fairy tale, Floyd is sitting close to the fire. Some people want to make the town a tourist destination, others want it unchanged. Its techies and wanderers may find a way to co-exist, and outside dollars can be a good thing, but talk to the old-timers here long enough and you’ll notice a refrain: We like our rough edges. Please don’t dress us up for brochures and busloads. Let us carry on, carrying on.

This is not to say that Floyd doesn’t welcome visitors. It does, with open arms and warm interest in others. But people here can spot you as an out-of-towner the minute you set foot in the coffee shop, and they’ll hope you’re not a developer with an eye on real estate prices.

Floyd is a self-reliant town, with people who’ve settled here intentionally, some from the mostly diminished days of communes, some of them grown children who’ve seen other places and returned here to raise their own. Artists have built a haven here—potters and photographers, painters and luthiers, all manner of musicians, gardeners and others who work with their hands and hearts—and they’re seeking a way of life that honors process over product.

It is a town unlike any other in Virginia, and Floyd’s West Coast sensibilities aren’t always easily reconciled with its fundamentalist beginnings. Small, hand-lettered signs posted outside town ask, “Are you ready to meet God?” Indeed, church parking lots are full on Sunday mornings and also on Wednesday nights. But an equally strong contingent piles into the Blue Ridge Restaurant downtown on Sunday mornings, hoping to beat the church crowd for a stack of buttered pancakes and possibly nursing a hangover from the night before. Moonshine is widely available here, but it can’t touch the local wines for provenance, let alone legality. In fact, there’s no ABC store in the county, and the thought of bringing one in remains highly controversial.

This is a live-and-let-live place, where “nobody’s trying to pass too many rules,” says gallery owner Joanne Bell, “and nobody’s really breaking any, either. There are so many people with different interests and ways of thinking, I feel that everyone is pretty much respected, and you don’t all have to be the same.” The business that she shares with her photographer husband William, Bell Gallery & Garden, is a community gathering spot that offers an appealing collection of local crafts and fine art. “People have had to create their own way of life here,” she observes, “and they are very resourceful. It takes a certain amount of gumption to haul in water and wood, to take care of yourself when the power goes out for days. You learn to make do with what you have, and people help each other and find their creative juices out of necessity.”

The community’s embrace of the arts is everywhere, from the exemplary Jacksonville Center for the Arts, with its spacious silo-turned-gallery and artist workrooms, to the smaller shops and studios clustered around Locust Street. Sixteen Hands, a 25-year-old collective of potters, is revered among townspeople for pioneering a creative way of life as well as a technically skillful aesthetic that holds its own anywhere. Twice-yearly studio tours showcase the deep friendships among the potters, and their commitment to their work.

Music, like art, is omnipresent here, and the Friday night jamboree at the Floyd Country Store is far and away the cultural highlight of every weekend. Dancers flat-foot along the floorboards next to barrels of penny candy and boxes of popcorn. Their exhilaration, fueled by old-time and bluegrass music picked by various groups, is contagious and sweet.

Dancers continue their promenade on Saturday nights next door, in the Sun Theater. Its semi-monthly contra dances are such a draw that streets and parking lots previously empty are as jammed as in a metropolis. To see red-cheeked couples swirl through the steps—courting an old art form and each other—is like watching a vigorous period minuet.

All the better to burn off some of the delicacies at the town’s finest dining spot, Oddfellas Cantina, on the prime corner of Locust. There’s not a person in town who doesn’t recommend this place for a perfect dinner out, with a classical guitarist accompanying exquisite food and the warm, good-natured energy of neighbors gathered in a wood-paneled dining room.

Bigger events tend to take place at the famed local winery, Chateau Morrisette, a French-style stunner of a space with large, wood-burning fireplaces, terraces with spectacular mountain views and an outdoor concert area, with seasonal cuisine that complements the vintages, delectably.

Folks gather at Café del Sol with such regularity that it’s become the hub of the community, offering espresso and fresh fare that always includes something for the town’s many vegetarians. Attached to the cafe is a clothing business, Winter Sun, a local success story featuring distinctive fashions and crafts made in South America and sold worldwide. Similarly, County Sales is a major mail-order retailer working out of Floyd, selling the world’s largest selection of bluegrass and old-time music to an international fan base.

Still another shopping attraction for locals and visitors is Harvest Moon, a sophisticated but relaxed grocery store and upstairs café with an impressive array of gourmet and organic foods and gifts that rivals anything a city can offer. Down the road, Schoolhouse Fabrics holds a huge, three-story inventory of sewing supplies and textiles for quilters and seamstresses and do-it-yourselfers in the region.

In late July, some 10,000 souls converge on Floydfest, a music festival set on acreage near the Blue Ridge Parkway that transforms the area into a weekend scene of post-Woodstock peacefulness, modern-day jam bands and other musical and visual delights. Though most festival-goers camp out, local lodgings book up fully for this and other annual events.

The Inn at Hope Springs, which is also an alpaca farm, is a local stand-out for luxury seekers; other options range from simple log cabins to old houses and mountain-view campgrounds. [Note: The Inn at Hope Springs is now closed.] One of the newest lodgings aims for an ecotourism crowd. Miracle Farm Bed and Breakfast Spa and Resort is run by former Californians Karen and Ed Osborne. It is possibly the only inn in Virginia where guests are encouraged to compost their own table scraps and recycle their trash, the kind of rustic hideaway that reflects the back-to-the-earth movement that brought many pioneers to Floyd in the first place. Breakfasts are vegetarian, organic three-course affairs; diversions are walking trails, Pilates instruction or hot-stone massages; accommodations are small, riverside cabins set within an animal sanctuary and surrounded by fields and woods.

At the heart of Floyd’s appeal are its unspoiled, litter-free countryside and the inky night sky exploding with stars. Music and art are the driving forces for daily life, along with hiking, gardening and the daily work of survival. “People here live simpler lives at a slower pace,” says John, a guy we met in the coffee shop. “They don’t expect a whole lot. They try to enjoy what they do have and what they’re doing. People find their peace here.”

But don’t mistake this place as backwoods, no matter how simplified the living. Folks here have taken to websites and blogs with considerable zeal, and the poetic daily musings of writers like Fred First (Fragments from Floyd), Scott Perry (Ohpapa Blues Blog), Colleen Redman (Loose Leaf Notes), David St. Lawrence (Making Ripples) and Doug Thompson (Blue Ridge Muse) give voice to the small moments and the grander connections that draw virtual and physical communities even closer. No marketing strategy could do so much to capture Floyd’s real magic.

—Originally published June 2007

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